CHEF TO THE GREAT AND THE GOOD
Heiko Nieder took charge of The Restaurant kitchens in 2008. This ambitious restaurant is part of Dolder Grand, the enormous palace overlooking Zurich. Take a look at how the other half eat.
Heiko Nieder In 7 dates
1972 Born in Reinbek in the outskirts of Hamburg.
1990 Trains at the Vier Jahreszeiten hotel in Hamburg, then in several Michelin-starred establishments: Le Canard (Hamburg), Zur Traube (Grevenbroich), and Vau (Berlin).
2002 Head chef at L’Orquivit (Bonn).
2003 Named “Discovery of the Year” by Gault&Millau.
2005 Awarded his first Michelin star.
2008 Head of The Restaurant, the fine dining location at the Dolder Grand (Zurich).
2011 Awarded a second star by the Michelin Guide.
To find the real engine room of this huge spaceship, you have to take a peek through basement windows, peer through portholes and climb each of the fire escapes.
Across the horizon, the eternal snows look like the seams of some celestial mineral deposit. Lake Zurich stands out against the mountains like a fragment of fallen sky, reflecting the upward-sweeping hills, green as the Elysian fields. This heavenly scenery can be best appreciated from a vast balcony, accessed via a futuristic walkway which calls to mind the Batmobile’s launch pad. You have now reached the threshold of a fantastic castle to rival Bruce Wayne’s manor: the Dolder Grand, Switzerland’s largest hotel, whose legendary panorama is the envy of the world. The Empress Sissi, Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, Alfred Hitchcock, Persian shahs and Abyssinian emperors have gazed over this masterpiece. It is a hard act to follow for the 40,000 m² of the palace, which is filled with priceless works of art. From the luminous landscapes of Camille Pissarro to the dream-like precision of Salvador Dalí, the studious hallucinations of Jean Dubuffet and the infantile kitsch of Takashi Mura-kami, the Dolder Grand denies itself no luxury. But to find the real engine room of this huge spaceship, modernised by Norman Foster’s architects, you have to take a peek through basement windows, peer through portholes and climb each of the fire escapes.
A muscular culinary machine
Even when the kitchen is a hive of activity, chef Heiko Nieder’s stoves glisten like a hall of mirrors. The palace has placed quite some kitchen at the disposal of this young, thoughtful German chef, who has only just turned forty and came to the hotel in 2008. Other kitchens relieve him of the daily trials of breakfast and room service, leaving him free to dedicate all his time to his “cuisine”. The prestigious establishment, soberly named “The Restaurant”, discreetly embodies this extravagant hotel in its every detail. That idea more than anything else is what motivates this muscular culinary machine. The team are a sight to behold, as they strut about in full uniform, not a hair out of place, then suddenly spring into action with the discipline of a film crew, where each person in his or her mysterious role contributes to the success of the final performance. Every so often, the director takes the camera, and everyone holds their breath in the presence of his ample yet precise movements, as sharp as the blow of a sword... Heiko Nieder is not burdened by the vanities of regional fare: his cuisine is conceived in keeping with his wayfaring nature (after training in Hamburg and Berlin, he was chef at L’Orquivit, a highly-regarded restaurant in Bonn). The menu blends rigorously selected local ingredients with a multitude of exotic marvels, such as pearly line-caught turbot served with miniature garnishes prepared with a diamond-dealer’s pliers; or Breton lobster with strawberries, probably a homage to one of the glories of French Nouvelle Cuisine, the famous vanilla lobster cooked by chef Alain Senderens. It is essentially a true hotel menu, fitting perfectly with the international and eclectic inclination of this city of refuge: Zurich, where twenty minutes’ walk takes you out of the city – a summary of the world, the gathering place of high society.
In order to gain a better understanding of Switzerland’s biggest city, one might compare it to another protestant metropolis. Amsterdam is its polar opposite, a city where you can see right into the houses, and the walls between each window are almost like frames. In days gone by, this strange architecture meant that occupants’ integrity was subject to the prying gaze of passers-by. Nothing could have been stranger to the former inhabitants of Zurich than to parade their virtues in the public arena. After all, whereas the middle classes of Amsterdam made a living from trade, their Swiss counterparts were expert bankers. The cardinal virtue of the former was reputation; the latter, discretion. It is something of a paradox that such a reserved culture was so successful in attracting fortunes from around the world. Zurich is hardly fond of excess, as its grand yet unadorned houses attest. The city has created its own form of luxury which is modest yet efficient: the approval of its citizens, the only people on earth bored by wealth. It almost brings to mind the court at Versailles, where the Sun King won the unstinting loyalty of the most feared lords by handing out courtly privileges, such as the right to sit down in his presence.
The problem of copious wealth is reaching the limits of what it can buy. What could be more frustrating than not being able to enjoy one’s money? In days gone by, the protestant city amassed wealth only to resist it. Its piety invented the infinite accumulation of capital, replacing spending with investment to escape from the former’s promises, as insubstantial as evening drizzle on the lake. Millionaires searching for meaning come from around the world hoping to find the miracle of normality: King Midas would have loved to feel something other than gold beneath his fingers. Heiko Nieder is thus charged with satisfying a difficult clientele seeking simplicity. Diners must be served without uncalled-for familiarity, and their whims flattered without any guilt-tripping. They do not want to feel trapped by flagrant indulgence, and sincerity is all they appreciate. Perhaps by dint of feeding the fascination of the masses, and thus encouraging cheap imitations, they fear they too will end up trapped in kitsch. They dread discovering they have signed up to a soap opera instead of a blockbuster. The Dolder Grand does not compromise on any element which might set their minds at rest: a simple yet luxurious menu, cautiously ambitious and carefully generous, yet leaving room for spontaneity, right down to the balanced selection of coffees, which are extracted at a specific temperature and prepared by the Nespresso Aguila machine which can whip up any number of recipes with mathematical precision. And from time to time, this harnessed desire for power steps on the accelerator: the race car revs at the red light, reaches top speed in half a second and only levels out at the very limit of what is possible, restricted only by the cramped alleys and watchful eye of radars.
Even when the kitchen is a hive of activity, chef Heiko Nieder’s stoves glisten like a hall of mirrors.
Heiko Nieder is not burdened by the vanities of regional fare: his cuisine is conceived in keeping with his nature.
CHEESE AND JUNIPER BERRY TART
SERVES 4-6 PREPARATION TIME: 30 min COOLING TIME: 1 hr COOKING TIME: 55 min + 1 hr 30 min
For the tart: pre-heat the oven to 175 °C (gas mark 4-5). Mix together 500 g (1 lb 1 ½ oz) cream cheese, 70 g (2 ½ oz) sugar, 50 g (1 ¾ oz) cornflour, 100 g (3 ½ oz) single cream, 50 g (1 ¾ oz) cream, 1 yoghurt and 3 egg yolks. Beat 4 egg whites with 90 g (3 ¼ oz) of sugar until stiff then add to the mixture. Add the juice and zest of one lemon, mix and pour into a greased tin. Cook for 40 minutes until golden. Leave to cool.
For the crumble: mix 50 g (1 ¾ oz) cane sugar with 50 g (1 ¾ oz) soft butter, 50 g (1 ¾ oz) flour, 50 g (1 ¾ oz) ground almonds, 2 g salt and 5 g crushed juniper berries. Roll into a ball and refrigerate for 1 hour. Break the dough into crumbs and cook for 15 minutes at 180 °C (gas mark 6).
For the cream: mix 275 g (10 oz) cream cheese with 80 g (3 oz) sugar and one teaspoon of flour. Beat one egg with one yolk and stir into the mixture. Add 20 g (¾ oz) cream, ½ teaspoon candied lemons and the ground seeds of half a vanilla pod. Mix and pour into a greased tin. Heat in a bain-marie for 1 ½ hours in an oven heated to 90 °C (gas mark 3). Leave to cool and top the tart with this creamy mixture, sprinkled with the crumble. This dessert is served with marinated loquats, a compote of wild herbs and sorrel sorbet.
TURBOT A LA GRENOBLOISE
SERVES 4 PREPARATION TIME: 20 min COOKING TIME: 45 min
Peel the zest from four lemons, keeping the pith and the pulp for the juice. Place the zest and the pith in separate pots of cold water, quickly bring to the boil then drain. Repeat four times. The fifth time, cook both together over a low heat with 50 g (1 ¾ oz) sugar for around 45 minutes. Drain. Mix to a fine purée with the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Beat 5 egg yolks in a dish in a bain-marie, along with 1 tablespoon of white wine and 2 tablespoons of caper juice. Gradually add 80 g (3 oz) butter and 20 g (¾ oz) lemon olive oil; the sauce should thicken like a hollandaise sauce. Season. Keep on the heat. Salt 4 x 80 g (3 oz) turbot filets and pan-fry on each side in 50 g (1 ¾ oz) butter over a medium heat. Take off the heat and sprinkle with lemon zest. Serve with the lemon purée, the sauce, chopped parsley and fried croutons. This fish is served with a brown butter emulsion and the foamed caper sauce. These Heiko Nieder recipes have been adapted.
LOBSTER, STRAWBERRIES & TARRAGON
SERVES 4 PREPARATION TIME: 30 min COOKING TIME: 2 hr COOLING TIME: 1hr + 1hr
Wash 2 beetroot, wrap in tin foil and bake in the oven for 2 hours at 180 °C. Peel and dice. Marinate 100 g (3 ½ oz) finely chopped strawberries in 1 tablespoon of raspberry vinegar, 100 ml (3 ½ fl oz) olive oil and 5 drops of lime juice. Place 2.6 kg (1 lb 5 oz) lobsters in salted boiling water. Boil for 4-5 minutes. Plunge the lobsters in salted icy water. Remove the shell and cut into medallions. Mix 600 ml (21 fl oz) lemon olive oil with 100 ml (3 ½ fl oz) stock. Add the juice of one lime and marinate the medallions in this mixture for one hour. Blend 2 stalks of tarragon with 250 ml (8 ¾ fl oz) water and 3 g sea salt. Soften 3 gelatine leaves in cold water then dissolve in hot water, and add to the tarragon sauce. Pour this mixture into a siphon, refrigerate for 30 minutes then shake the siphon and pour the contents onto a plate. Refrigerate for one hour to allow the mousse to set. Chop the mousse. Serve with the marinated medallions, the beetroot and the strawberries. This starter is served with beetroot chips, nasturtium flowers and mustard.
Production Sandrine Giacobetti Text Julien Bouré Photography Jean-Claude Amiel